Two-Pizza Teams

“One of the things that you learn in a rural area like that is self-reliance,” Mr. Bezos said. “People do everything themselves. That kind of self-reliance is something you can learn, and my grandfather was a huge role model for me: If something is broken, let’s fix it. To get something new done you have to be stubborn and focused, to the point that others might find unreasonable.”

The WSJ looks into the life of Jeff Bezos, creator of Amazon.com, from ranch hand to financial-services professional to owner of a garage start up business (or close enough).

At launch, the site wasn’t even truly finished. Mr. Bezos’s philosophy was to get to market quickly, in order to get a jump on the competition, and to fix problems and improve the site as people started using it. Among the early mistakes, according to Mr. Bezos: “We found that customers could order a negative quantity of books! And we would credit their credit card with the price and, I assume, wait around for them to ship the books.”

During the first few weeks, everyone at the company was working until two or three in the morning to get the books packed, addressed and shipped. Mr. Bezos had neglected to order packing tables, so people ended up on their knees on the concrete floor to package the books. He later recalled in a speech that, after hours of doing this, he commented to one of the employees that they had to get knee pads. The employee, Nicholas Lovejoy, “looked at me like I was a Martian,” Mr. Bezos said. Mr. Lovejoy suggested the obvious: Buy some tables. “I thought that was the most brilliant idea I had ever heard in my life,” he said.

And yet it grew, in part due to challenging conventional wisdom.

One of his more controversial early decisions was to allow customers to post their own book reviews on the site, whether they were positive or negative. Competitors couldn’t understand why a bookseller would allow such a thing. Within a few weeks, Mr. Bezos said, “I started receiving letters from well-meaning folks saying that perhaps you don’t understand your business. You make money when you sell things. Why are you allowing negative reviews on your Web site? But our point of view is [that] we will sell more if we help people make purchasing decisions.”

Over time, Mr. Bezos’s unusual management style began to develop. He’s not always a “nice” CEO. He can inspire and cajole but also irritate and berate. He can see the big picture—and micromanage to distraction. He’s quirky, brilliant and demanding.

One former executive recalled that, at an offsite retreat where some managers suggested that employees should start communicating more with each other, Mr. Bezos stood up and declared, “No, communication is terrible!”

He wanted a decentralized, even disorganized company where independent ideas would prevail over groupthink. He instituted, as a company-wide rule, the concept of the “two-pizza team”—that is, any team should be small enough that it could be fed with two pizzas.

Also discussed is his idea to have unwanted gifts returned before they even arrive. Is it any wonder Borders couldn’t compete?

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